Acts 21:31-40

31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.

34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another.
So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.

35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.

36For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!”

37 Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?”  He replied, “Can you speak Greek?

38 Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”

39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”

40 So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

garrison (v.31) — The cloisters or colonnades in the Court of the Gentiles communicated at the northwest corner by a flight of steps with the fortress of Antonia, which was built on a rocky eminence close by and commanded a view of the temple and what went on there. It had originally been built as a fortress palace by Herod the Great, but was now occupied by the Roman garrison. The near presence of this fortress was a constant source of irritation to the Jews. News of the commotion proceeding in the temple was carried up to the fortress, the soldiers of which were kept in readiness under arms at festival seasons to quell disturbances. — Walker, page 469.


commander (v.31) — The “chiliarch of the cohort. The military tribune in question was in command of a thousand men, of whom 750 would be infantry and 250 cavalry.

centurions (v.32) — Officers subordinate to him, each commanding 100 soldiers. — Walker, page 470

chains (v.33) — In fulfillment of Agabus’ prophecy (Acts 21:11) — He was probably chained by the wrist to two soldiers

violence (v.35) — The mob was so violent, the soldiers had to carry Paul.

Egyptian (v.38) — Josephus tells us that an Egyptian, posing as a prophet, got together 30,000 men and led them to the Mount of Olives, with intent to overpower the Roman garrison and seize Jerusalem, but that Felix forestalled him by attacking him, when the Egyptian ran away and the greater part of his followers were destroyed or taken prisoner.

In another account of the same event, he says that only 400 were slain and 200 taken alive; so that his numbers are clearly unreliable, while the incident itself is authentic.

The event was quite a recent one, so that it was natural for the commander to think that the run-away Egyptian had returned to make a fresh attempt at insurrection.

Assassins (v.38) — The “Sicarii” were a set of fanatics who arose in Judea during the procuratorship of Felix. They were so called because they carried under their garments a short sword or dagger (sicca), with which they stabbed their political opponents as they mingled with the crowd at the festivals. — Walker, page 472

Jew (v.39) — and so he had a right to enter the temple

Tarsus, in Cilicia (v.39) — A city with a renowned university. This would account, in the commander’s eyes, for Paul’s Greek culture.

citizen (v.39) — He was an enfranchises citizen of Tarsus as a Greek municipality, as well as a Roman citizen of the empire.

no mean city (v.39) — In other words “of a distinguished city.” Tarsus ranked high among the intellectual cities of the Roman East, and bore upon its coins the proud titles “metropolis” and “autonomous” (self-governing). — Walker, page 473.

Hebrew language (v.40) — Some commentaries say this was Hebrew and some say it was Aramaic. Whatever the case, it was the language the crowd could understand. Paul could speak Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and maybe Latin.

Several of the commentaries mention the similarity of the words shouted by the mob on this occasion and on the occasion of the arrest of Jesus Christ. They see it as a connection between the ministry of Paul and of the Lord. While there is that aspect, I think the greater point is the consistent rejection of the message by Israel. It underlines, once again, how Acts is the record of the rejection of that message by the Jews.

Paul’s heart for his people is clearly in view. He went to Jerusalem in spite of warnings to try to reach them. He brought them generous gifts from the churches. He agreed to James’ plan to perform the rites in the temple. All of that didn’t work. He was beaten and arrested. He must have been frightened, sore, probably bleeding and yet he sees the gathered mob as yet another opportunity to have his say. I know, beyond doubt, I would have walked away long before.

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